Changing Temples Pt. 22 Music Hath Charms 2nd Movement

Music Hath Powers 2nd Movement

There was a time when I could write like a banshee with certain music playing – I could, quite literally, not stop the subconscious, or what ever that is inside of us speaking and seeking outlet; that flow of mind or soul or heart straight through a pencil onto the page. I cannot describe it accurately. It flowed out without stop, without censor, without the necessity for grammar. I wrote some interesting poetry and letters that way. Now some four plus decades later, the same thing can happen with just the right melody or tune or what ever it is that defines the nature of a song that compels the words to come out like water out of a hose. It closes down the censor, as I call it, and lets nothing but feeling or heart or soul or slop come out. Don’t stop that music!

Vanity Fair: ‘Hitchin’ a Ride’, Moody Blues: ‘Ride My SeeSaw’. In the old days I would lift up the record player stylus and put it down again and again and again just so I could keep writing and see what came forth. Not just so I “could” keep writing really but so that there “would” be an opening of that magic casement from whence unheard, unvisualized, unthought, unimagined treasures of word combinations would flow out in jeweled (or so I thought) strings.

Nowadays, the marvels of modern electronics allow multiple replay with a mere flick of a finger. The right music can still activate that casement – “Open Sesame” works each time. But not with the electronics I have available here and now. The song that just got me going in the old way, the song that gave rise to all this has ended. I was just feeling that old release. Was there depth available? Was there ever really any depth available? What is it in that soul of ours that seeks expression and pretends to depth? Insight? Hardly possible when one looks even slightly askance at that wisdom produced by so many over so many millennium – nothing new to be added there. New variations on the theme? Well, there is some hope there. The theme being of course – at least in this instance – the human condition. That marvel that compels the individual, defines the culture, describes the species. Who are we? Not just as that species but as that individual with desires rampant, mind so engaged that many religions, especially in their esoteric sects, spend their whole essence trying to get us to turn it off, if even for just the briefest of moments. We organize, we memorize, we collectivize, we quantify. We think! We agonize! We contemplate.

Yet, are we all of that merely in response to a recognition that is truly unique to our species – the prescience of death? Not just understanding after it has occurred – elephants have been shown to have a very real cognizance of a death occurrence. But we humans are part and parcel of a condition of temporality realized. I know, so what?

Because the what is that filler we create to add significance. The filler we use to override that horrible rationality that pervades the daylight of modern life and shovels that filler back into some place we can so easily close the door upon. How Keats filled. How Mozart filled. We think it genius. I think it merely some condition of spirit that allowed them to ignore the oppression of the norm, ignore the whole conception that we only pretend at the act of creation. How often have you heard: “I’m not creative”. Bah humbug.

One could say, of course, that we were made “in His image” – so creation is what we do, who we are, and what is to be hallelujahed in us. How many people strive to carve out from the necessities of this oppressive, demanding existence those brief moments of creativity? Think of your mother, your father, your aunt, your sibling – are there not ordinary people of ordinary existence who find a way to create, to seek to outlast temporality. It is not from taking the “long” view but that rare gift of living moment by moment where the mind finally quiets into the task, the censor finally being closeted for an all too brief moment, a moment not of survival but of art – however mean, however common. That is the art that leaps out at you throughout Venice. Countless people took the time – if only to hire someone else who could quiet their mind to let the creative leap out.

So much of political revolution is in response to censorship of thought, word, or deed, or community, or what ever the censor that dominates us finds expedient. Just as in the macrocosm so to in the microcosm. There is a censor that seeks to condition our human condition. Survival it might be. Replication of the species it might be. Responsibility it might be. But censor it is. Go not softly into that dark night. Rebel, I have only my censor to lose. Otherwise, I have a distinct sense that I can count on it marching with me into death, forever talking, forever overriding, forever demanding no until it is too late to recognize its shallowness.

Changing Temples Pt. 18 – Music Has Charms . . .

“It is not in soul-searching or constant introspection that we encounter the Lord.”
Pope Francesco

Thanks to a dear friend who had a traveler’s agenda I would never have pursued, and thanks to my desire to hear authentic music performed within the innumerable churches of Venice, I have visited fantastic basilicas, churches, and friaries. With perhaps one or two exceptions, these churches and their frescos are “depressing” – the greatest exception being a Titian entitled “The Assumption of Mary”. In it Titian inspires one to look through the eyes of Peter, who, with one hand in the coffin and head turned to watch Mary being taken to The Lord, was clearly being that same Peter I have always known and loved for his insistently questioning humanity – “Don’t wash my feet!”, “I’ll never deny YOU”, “We’ve fished all day”, “Is she really up there?” etc., etc.

By “depressing” I mean, of course, a constant refrain of suffering, suffering, suffering. From the Buddha onward, that thematic reference point for human existence is certainly not one which can be denied, but it does get . . . well, depressing.

This whole rendition has to do with another “serendipitous” moment – I want to Easter Sunday Service at a Anglican Church here in Venice. I had been aiming since my early planning stages to attend Easter Service at one of the Grand Basilicas because there is no ritual and ceremony of Easter that can beat the high Catholic. However, the small, comfortable, English speaking community of St. George’s Anglican Church was appealing. I had gone to Maundy Thursday Service (5 people) and to Good Friday Service (13 people), by which time I was considered part of the congregation and asked to read Scripture. I was, ultimately, attracted by the “acceptance”, and the English, of course. At the Easter Service there was a vocalist who sang during the Offeratory and the Preparatory for Communion who was clearly NOT, I repeat NOT, an amateur. It turns out she is an Opera Diva of some local and international renown. She and other colleagues have established a musical ensemble (Venice Music Project, Stagione Di Musica Antica), with several goals – to provide a bit of recompense in an expensive city, to promote Baroque Music with original instruments, and to raise funds for the restoration of Cheisa di San Giovanni Evangelista (the Church of Saint John the Evangelist) – all of which I clearly can support without equivocation. So, I found out from her (New Jersey born) that their group was having a concert that very afternoon to celebrate Pasqua (Easter). I went.

For $26 U.S. (“Ridotto e.g. Senior Citizen charge – my goodness an advantage to being old!!!) I experienced a minor epiphany. This was the music presented: “Musica per Venerdi Santo e Pasqua (more or less, Sacred Veneration Music of Easter/Passover) Musiche di: Vivaldi, Haendle” and “Stabat Mater di G.B. Pergolesi”. The Vivaldi and Handel were instrumental and the Pergolesi was with Soprano, Mezzo-Soprano and instruments. I was so uplifted! I mean UPLIFTED! I saw with new eyes. I felt a degree of sublimity that is altogether too rare. I realized in my own simple-minded way that it was this very sense of transcendence that was what was intended by these masters of music – to lift the heart beyond the suffering and depressive nature of what was depicted around one and show beyond question why those soaring vaults, those frescoes, those statutes, those burial plaques, were meant to remind one of the transcendent nature of faith and hope and life. I will never enter one of these 13th C. – 18th C. churches in the same way again.

Continued . . .

Changing Temples Pt. 14 – Disneyland Mediterranean Pt. 2

Changing Temples Pt. 14
Disneyland Mediterranean – Pt. 2

“Even the most hopeful city planners worry that in a few decades Venice will not be a city at all, but a museum, a cultural theme park, a decaying Disneyland for adults.”
Rick Steves

Imagine being in the midst of a truly fine Roman Amphitheatre in Croatia. You are chatting with someone from Holland who asks where you are from. Rather than go through the long dialogue about America, Montana, why I left, the giorno per giorno nature of the stay in Venezia, I just say I am staying in Venezia. “Oh” comes the reply, “that’s a lot like Disneyland isn’t it?” If Venezia is not quite Disneyland Mediterranean, as I contend, then what descriptors would best capture it. For, if Venezia does “not quite” resemble a cultural theme park, what does it resemble.

The term “Venice” is a descriptor itself. To Venezians and Italians it is Venezia – what kind of magic does that convey, what kind of mystery? But, the image, the imagination, the mystery that is conveyed when I say Venice! Venice is probably easier to describe than Venezia, for many of us carry latent images of it in our memory, while some carry them in their hearts – having visited once. Have you ever met anyone who has been to Venice (even those numerous ones who landed in the a.m. and left in the p.m.) who does not convey to you some degree of ambience of delight in their descriptors about the city?

Venice: “Improbable”. Venice: “Otherworldly”. Venice: “A continuous surprise for the eye and the heart”. You walk along a Fundamenta, a walkway along a canal, there just ahead in the early evening light the prow of a gondola juts into view from an even smaller side canal, and rounds the corner in your direction. The gondolier crawls forward to lower the bow so that the magnificent, thrusting prow will not be sheared off by the low ponte he is crossing under.

You have no doubt seen pictures of traffic cops in foreign countries with peculiar white hats, white gloves, uniform always impeccable midst the chaos of traffic, arms extended, almost serene midst the endless stream. In Venezia, those traffic cops are precisely the same, except they are in Piazza San Marco and the endless streams are the swirling, swarming tourists – those waiting to get into the Basilica or the Campanile (Bell Tower) or just trying to transit.

I debate myself often whether Venezia is a city more for doing or more for relishing. I suppose either choice is a strong indicator of being a cultural theme park. Still, I see the difference as Venice being genus to the amusement park species that is Disneyland. For one, it is inhabited (albeit with ever decreasing numbers, as the native population has dropped from around 110,000 to 60,000 in ten years). Venice is certainly 15th, 16th and 17th Century relish for the eye – canals, pontes, houses, flowers decorating nearly every second window – the one rather plain exception, interestingly enough, to the profusion of flower lovers, is on the Grande Canale, perhaps because the wealthy can not be bothered to appear but on show-case occasions like Carnivale or Biennale.

To me, it is a city that startles the eyes: Around every corner is a canal, a ponte arching over, and pastel colored dwellings gently creating a more perpendicular curve with just enough foreground to create a mysterious longing to float down, under, around. Venice startles the eye as it catches the small shrine, they do not call them that, surprisingly, they are simply Maria or Jesu, but they appear in so many places and so surprisingly that they can be said to be common. Venezia jumps into your eye suddenly with the small marble inset sculptures, statues grand or delicate, majestic or touching, friezes. by some of history’s finest. There are constant, every so constant, reminders that those who built did not just build but instilled their faith, their esthetic, their pride (pompous or simple, as the case might be), their desire for a more transcendent atmosphere around them. I speculate it was so because it helps one rise above the pains of this world – pains I contend have scarcely changed in all these hundreds and hundreds of years.

The whole, tutti (all), captures one’s heart or soul just long enough that we too rise above. That rising has somehow occurred in people for all these five to six hundred year. Yea, it can be argued that it has done so for two thousand years if one remembers the floor mosaic – The Punishment of Dirce – in a Roman home in Pula, Croatia for example.

But, do not stop there. There is more, if not deeper, then appealing and absorbing. Waves lapping, church bells deeply toning their duty, rather soft sounds of boats, human voices. Nothing else competes for the ear (OK, occasionally a barking dog or the rather cacophonous sound of a sea gull). Unimaginable to the modern sensibility, there is no automobile drone – the drone that so dominates our world ear that we do not realize its ever present, unrelenting demand upon the senses unless we are lucky enough to escape far onto a mountain trail. One can hardly know anymore, really, what that drone has become in its own pervasive way. We drown it with TV, music, suburban enclave, but it greets us always, ever ready to climb into the ear and make a home where we do not even realize that squatting has occurred. Not so in Venice. Not so in Venezia.

Continued . . .

Changing Temples Pt. 12 – Deportation Pt. 2

Changing Temples – Deportation, Pt. 2: The Anatomy of Panic

Grab your coat and get your hat
Leave your worries on the doorstep
Life can be so sweet
On the sunny side of the street
On The Sunny Side of the Street, 1930

There is a form of incipient panic in travel that I cannot but dread. Particulars: Because my Deportation Avoidance Behaviors were all undertaken within two hours – beginning at about 7:45 a.m. and me across Venezia and on the train by 9:12, there were things that had to give. No soap and shampoo with me. The little apartment I have in Pula has WiFi and nice space, but no soap or shampoo!

It also happens to be in the middle of suburban nowhere in Pula. A consequence of having to use an Internet cafe half way through the journey to try to get a reservation in advance. Foreign computer and internet usage is mostly . . . well, foreign. While the clock is ticking up Euros, you are trying to figure out which combination of keys will give you the @ sign. Seems simple, but I can tell you from the perspective of Costa Rica and here (my two experiences), it is not!

As I mentioned, the booking company map showed 4+ miles to city centre, which distance, of course, was only genuinely visible after booking. The landlords’ son speaks reasonable English and barely explained how to find the city bus but a great job of explaining which bus number to take. He failed to mention that the bus number coming back is not the same!

So, thanks to a nice fellow sitting by the side of his house this a.m., I found the bus stop. Thanks to very friendly fellows at the bus stop, I got off at the right spot. One of them, Swedish by some connection, so with a grasp of English, took the time to show me the bus stop to find when I was ready to return. He then proceeded to walk about with me to orient me. That was such a nice gesture. In part, however, it got me a little panicked about truly NOT being oriented, because we were making turns upon turns and he was using a vocabulary of one-third English to say “you can’t miss it”.

When I am faced with a totally unknown city (my iPad maps would be wonderful, but I do not have a Data Plan for Croatia – especially for 3 days) and only one orientation point for getting myself back to where I am sleeping, my pattern is to do a slow, circular or perpendicular walk about to get familiar.

At any rate, this friendly soul left me at a spot where I had some comfort about a return route, so I walked on thinking that the Roman Amphitheater this town is famous for would be near the water. Sure enough.

So, I whiled away the day (the Adventure of the Amphitheater is the subject of another edition). I decided I would eat an early supper to try to get the best time advantage in finding my way back to my abode.

But, incipient in the background was this panic about where I was to actually exit the bus on my return. It would have helped if I hadn’t had what appears to be the latest in an increasing number of moments of inadvertence on the inbound bus. When I sat down on the bus, but, limited seat availability notwithstanding, I completely forgot that I am supposed to somehow identify this one particular suburban bus stop within the repetitive, unidentifiable sameness of the streets and surroundings. I sit down “going backwards”, not the best for instilling something in memory about landmarks. Several blocks on I remembered what I was supposed to be about. Good luck. This suburb is like every other you have ever seen (especially one that, according to the landlord son, was all built in the last three years), winding streets not well marked. Everything looks alike. I took the kind fellow’s advice and got off at the spot recommended. But I recognized niente! I did not see the bus stop I had used in the a.m. The uphill street looked promising or memorable, but who the hell knows.

There was a nice old lady passing by. I showed her my address on a piece of paper (why try to pronounce a language I can’t). Sure enough she said the uphill street. Here I am. Unnecessary incipient panic, but only in retrospect. I have been in many a situation where it was not nearly as seamless. Dare I tell you about this time in Berkeley CA, full bladder, full failure to take any replica of the address, the phone number, or anything, and taking the wrong exit out of the subway?

Continued . . .

Changing Temples Pt. 11

Changing Temples Pt. 11
Deportation Avoidance Behaviors

“I am trying to move on to Italy as soon as possible as I hate this Catholic country with its hundred races and thousand languages. . . . Pola is a back-of-God-speed place—a naval Siberia . . . . Istria is a long boring place wedged into the Adriatic peopled by ignorant Slavs who wear little red caps and colossal breeches.” James Joyce

I am in violation of the Shengen Agreement! There is no perfect remedy for my violation, only a thin veneer of fakery. I can apply that veneer by going to England or to Croatia (or any country outside of the EU zone). Even that is not entirely accurate for I can come into total, acceptable compliance by just going back to America for 90 days before I can “legally”come back to the EU – which means Venezia to me of course. At this point I do not want to go home, let alone for 90 days. Croatia is closer than England and the transit cheaper, so I am escaping to Croatia.

I am escaping, as will be revealed in more detail below, very much like Bilbo Baggins running off without his pocket handkerchief and other things an altogether complacent Hobbit or human might need. In my case, no maps, an iPad choosing this moment to be completely balky with Internet connection, absolutely no idea of which town I should go to, only the intent to avoid a Shengen Agreement expulsion, fine, and embarrassment.

Perhaps if I work backward this will make some sense. By 9:12 a.m. this morning I had gotten out of bed (a major undertaking), exercised, packed, eaten breakfast, taken a Vaporatto Boat across Venezia, purchased a train ticket to Trieste (at the far Eastern part of the boot top of Italy), and was on the train to Trieste. From there Croatia is close – I cannot tell you how close at this point remember because I have no map and no Internet!

Where did all this start? To really show the instantaneous nature of the intent to be in this train seat at this time of day, I refer to last night’s dinner – which given custom and circumstance did not begin until 9:45 p.m.! I had asked a fellow from the ExPat Group if he would have a rational discussion with me about the “length of stay” issues in Italy. The she of the them is from the US. The he of them is Veneziano by birth, trained and admitted to the law in Italy, the UK, and New York. They have worked their way through all the issues regarding extended stay – all to say I could expect a very rational discussion.

It was way too rational! I had been just drifting along with regard to stay limits thinking because of the official Italian web site I had consulted that I was good for six months. He proceeded to outline the Shengen Agreement – which in short provides that someone from the US can ONLY be in the EU (that is, anywhere in the EU) for 90 days out of 180. I knew my passport had not been stamped or examined by Italian immigration, but I was not sure if it had been stamped by Swiss authorities when the porter took all the passenger passports on the overnight train from Paris to Venezia. At dinner we did not know, as one does not risk the carrying of their passport during everyday activities. But, given the actions of the train porter, it was likely.

The gist of the consult was go to Croatia, try to add a Croatian stay that might be veneered into 90 days just by having the most recent passport stamp be from a non-EU country. Croatia joins the EU on July 1 this year.

Sure enough, this morning I looked and my passport had been stamped on March 5th. By even the most charitable of calculations, as of today I am in violation of the Shengen Agreement. Thus, I am on my way to an unknown Croatian destination. I am hoping the cellular data network will work in Trieste – it will not be any good in Croatia at any rate (all country specific here). All this because I like Venezia, and want to stay for awhile!

I had some recall of my friends saying Poula or something of the sort. In the Trieste train station there were maps for sale. I looked at the cover of several and saw that Pula was indeed closest and near the sea. One bus ticket later, and off I go to find a WiFi spot since my cellular still refuses to give the necessary signal – it gives a signal, but not 3G and thus incapable of connection. Bars and cafes go by in succession. No WiFi signs. I begin to ask, each and everyone refers me to what I translate as an Internet store. After wandering (with bag, of course), I found, used, and got a reservation for lodging, as I am very disinclined to arrive in a strange place late, 5 p.m. in this instance – particularly a popular resort by the sea in high season.

Of course, despite the description, the place is four miles plus from the bus station. Gotta love it.

Continued . . .